Human males have both a X and a Y chromosome but females have two X chromosomes. This means that in an early stage in the development of a woman’s fertilised egg the cells need to silence one of those two X chromosomes. This process is crucial to survival and problems with the process are related to serious genetic diseases.
Both X chromosomes in a cell have a suicide gene called XIST which, if activated, seals the chromosome behind a barrier of RNA preventing the activation of any other gene. Researchers believe that this suicide gene can be itself blocked by a plug of proteins forming on top of its specific location on the chromosome but they had little idea as to why this should happen randomly to one X chromosome’s gene and not the other.
Scientists are extremely uncomfortable with this randomness and have sought a clear scientific reason as to why one X chromosome was switched off rather than the other. The observations also seem to run counter to the usual idea that the biological mechanisms evolve in ways that allow a "best" choice to be made between things rather than a random one.
Now researchers led by University of Warwick physicist Dr Mario Nicodemi have explained how this randomness occurs and why that it is beneficial. This will help understand the problems of a small number of women who unusually don’t have a completely random distribution of X chromosomes but the explanation may have much wider implications as at least 10% of our genes may behave in similar ways as mechanism that "chooses" between X chromosomes. Examples of this range from the immune system to our olfactory apparatus.
Coming at the problem from the perspective of a physicist Dr Nicodemi has found an explanation for the random selection based on thermodynamics. Research has already shown that at the key moment in this process both X chromosomes are brought close together within the cell. The Warwick researcher paper says that what happens next is that material for a "protein plug" then begins to gather around both of the XIST suicide genes on each X Chromosome. This starts a race between the two build ups of protein. Inevitably one of these two nascent protein plugs narrowly wins that race and reaches an energy state in which it can pull together all the material building up in both plugs into a single protein plug. That single plug then closes off one of the XIST suicide genes allowing its host X chromosome to continue to operate. However the other XIST suicide gene is now freed to activate and shuts down its X chromosome.
Since putting forward this explanation researchers in Harvard have observed actual plugs of protein shutting down X chromosome XIST genes in a manner giving further confirmation to Dr Nicodemi’s research. So the randomness is explained but what about researchers’ other concerns? Dr Nicodemi believes the randomness actually does give an evolutionary advantage. The mechanism means equal numbers of both the maternal and paternal X chromosome are preserved in the gene pool and the resultant population thus has more chance of surviving any biological threat targeted at a single version of the X chromosome.
Peter Dunn | alfa
Modern genetic sequencing tools give clearer picture of how corals are related
17.08.2017 | University of Washington
The irresistible fragrance of dying vinegar flies
16.08.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy